Pop quiz.

Before a workout do you:
Take a leisurely stroll on the treadmill.
(b) Do a couple of arm circles plus a half-hearted quad stretch for good measure.
(c) Launch straight into your workout and hope for the best!

WARM UP. You know you should do it, but do you know why?

Warming up and cooling down are an essential part of any workout. An effective warm-up will prepare your body and mind for physical exertion and reduce your chance of injury by:

  • building heat in the body
  • lubricating the joints
  • sending oxygenated blood to the major muscle groups
  • gradually increasing the heart rate.

So now you know why it’s important to warm up but what’s the best way to do it and for how long?

Before you begin to generate heat and get the heart rate up, spend a few minutes mobilising the key joints. These are my favourites:

  1. Wrists –  Rotate your wrists in large circles in both directions.
  2. Elbows – Extend your arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing up. Hinging at the elbow, bring your fingers towards your head as if doing a bicep curl. Repeat.
  3. Shoulders – Start with your hands by your side, palms facing in. Keeping your arms shoulder width or wider, raise your arms overhead. Repeat.  Next, bring your hands out in front of you at chest height, palms facing. Take your arms out to the side, opening the chest. Return to the start and repeat, trying to extend your range of motion with each repetition.
  4. Thoracic spine (upper back) – Extend your arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms facing down. Bend your elbows so thumbs touch the chest. Keeping the elbows high, rotate your head and torso to one side and look over your shoulder. Come back to centre and rotate to the other side. Allow the hips and knees to move with you.
  5. Hips –  Rotate your hips in large circles like you’re doing the hula! Do this in both directions.
  6. Ankles – Standing on one leg, circle your ankle in both directions. Repeat on the opposite side.

I recommend about 10 reps (on each side).

Next, complete five to ten minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (aim for 5-7 on a scale 1-10). A sports-specific warm-up is best. For example, if I’m planning on going for a long run, I’ll start with a five-minute jog at an easy pace.

That’s all well and good if you know what activity you’re going to be doing… but what if you don’t know what form of torture your PT has in store for you?

Depending on where you are and what you feel like, you can warm up with or without equipment.

How to warm up with equipment

In the gym, the rowing machine offers the best bang for your buck, with the stationary bike a close second. Personally, I think you should give the treadmill a wide berth and the reasons why are best explained by biomechanist and natural movement advocate Katy Bowman (check out this podcast or this blog post).

How to warm up without equipment

If you don’t have access to a cardio machine, try:

    • five to ten minutes of jogging at an easy pace (make sure you get those arms pumping!)
    • five minutes of skipping plus some plyometric exercises such as squat jumps, burpees or star jumps.

Finish with some dynamic stretches and you’re all set. Dynamic stretches are movements that are slowly controlled through a full range of motion, such as swinging one leg forward and backwards, then side to side; circling the arms in one direction and then the other.

Happy workout!

– Sam –

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